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European Union to Bangladesh: Improve Working Conditions Or Face Possible Trade Sanctions

Prompted by another garment factory disaster in Bangladesh, officials of the European Union said they’re considering trade sanctions if safety and health conditions are not improved. The E.U., comprising 27 countries, is Bangladesh’s largest trading partner.

The recent collapse of the Rana Plaza building near Dhaka killed more than 400 people, a catastrophe even more horrific than the Tarzeen Fashions fire which killed some 112 Bangladeshi workers in November 2012. It was the third such fatal disaster in the Bangladeshi clothing industry in the last six months.

In a joint statement E.U. trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said: “The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building’s construction is finally becoming clear to the world.”

Referring to the Tarzeen fire, the statement said, “This tragedy is all the more shocking as it follows textile factory fires in Bangladesh in recent months which have killed more than a hundred workers.”

The E.U. asked the Bangladeshi government, as it had previously, to “…immediately ensure that factories across the country comply with international labor standards including International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.”

There was no mistaking the threat in the E.U.’s response to this latest garment industry disaster.

“The E.U. is presently considering appropriate action, including through the Generalised  System of Preferences (GSP) — through which Bangladesh currently receives duty-free and quota-free access to the E.I. market under the ‘Everything But Arms’ scheme in order to incentivise responsible management of supply chains involving, developing countries,” the E.U. statement said.

Bangladesh’s garment exports total about $19 billion yearly, with some 60 percent to Europe.